Microsoft revealed its plans for future versions of DirectX--including versions 7.0 and 8.0--at its annual Meltdown Conference for games and multimedia developers this week. Even though DirectX 6.0 has just released release candidate stage (it will be released late this month, according to the company, though at least one component will be late), Microsoft says that future versions of the multimedia programming libraries will come fast and furious.

DirectX 6.0 was originally intended to be made available as part of the first Windows 98 service pack. Microsoft had a change of plans, however, and will now release DirectX 6.0 separately for Windows 98. DirectX 6.0 was also originally slated to appear with Windows NT 5.0, but that OS' late delivery almost guarantees that DirectX 7.0 will be ready by that point. Mark Kenworthy, a program manager for DirectX says that DirectX 6.0 speeds 3D applications by about 60%.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, not all of DirectX 6.0 will be ready for the late July launch. DirectMusic 6.0, for example, will ship with DirectX 6.1 this Fall and, Kenworthy says, with Windows 98 Service Pack 2. This is the first mention of a second service pack for Windows 98.

In the meantime, Microsoft is moving ahead with plans for DirectX 7.0, which should be ready for beta by September. DirectX 7.0 will support non-Pentium/Pentium II architectures, suggesting some Windows CE compatibility. This would coincide nicely with the release of the Windows CE-based Sega Dreamcast game console, which is expected in time for Christmas. DirectX 7.0 will also support the so-called MMX-2 features found in Intel's next-generation "Katmai" extensions for Pentium II chips.

"The current plan is to release \[DirectX 7.0\] in Q2 of next year," said Kenworthy.

Meanwhile, DirectX 8.0 plans are also coming together. DirectX 8.0 will be co-developed with graphics wizards from Silicon Graphics and Hewlett Packard, who will work with Microsoft to combine the DirectX and Open GL Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) into a single library